To gain perspective and understanding about what’s around the corner for 2021, it seemed prudent to profile some 2020 direct selling outliers. Here, eight executives reflect on a year that sometimes delivered unexpected and rapid increases in sales and growth for their companies, despite less-than-optimal pandemic conditions that caused pain and recession-like contractions for so many other businesses.
Beyond having in common the ability to adapt and be nimble, these companies are all driven by products in demand by consumers and readily accessible via robust e-commerce platforms. And these companies, much like direct selling legacy company Tupperware Brands—who experienced a resurgence thanks to more people needing to store leftovers during the pandemic, marked quadrupled profits of $34.4 million in the most recent quarter and saw stock prices soar from $1 in March to $28.80 per share in late October—want to ride this wave of sales through 2021.
Here, they lay out how they intend to do that using the insight of hindsight. They detail what worked this year, what challenged them, and how they coped with the unpredictability 2020 consistently threw. They share what sustained them in strife and offer up advice to those feeling the strain today. And lastly, they look forward through a pragmatic and transformative lens on a 2021 that will ultimately be what direct selling companies make it.
FOUNDED / 2017
HEADQUARTERS / Pleasant Hill, California
TOP EXECUTIVE / Alexy Goldstein, Founder and CEO
PRODUCTS / Health and Wellness
New U Life generated $60 million in sales by the end of its launch year in 2018, thanks to its unicorn product, SomaDerm. They parlayed its popularity and sales—once exclusively offered through a single retail storefront in California—into a whole-health movement of nearly 400,000 distributors in under three years.
“In the last 12 calendar months, we’ve sold 2.5 million bottles of SomaDerm, not including the sales of all our other products. We’re not even three years old yet, and we’re only in three markets,” Vice President of Marketing Jeremy Wardle says.
All the company’s offerings focus on whole-body wellness, including a new cognitive health supplement drink which launched in October. “We are a product-driven company that empowers the business opportunity because of how good our products are,” stated Wardle.
Despite growing pains and operational snags due to COVID-19 and the Pandemic, New U Life more than doubled its size in 2020 and successfully supported their sales field. The company is poised to open and expand international markets in Malaysia and Singapore in early 2021, with Korea, Japan, and Thailand expected to follow.
VP of Marketing, Jeremy Wardle and Pat Berry, VP of International on 2020
Jeremy Wardle: What has helped us to grow is that we’ve stayed true to our message of who we are. We are in the business of changing people’s lives. We’ve helped people create a new life through pioneering products.
We ultimately leveraged technology and a face-to-face platform with Zoom to the field and Microsoft Teams to the corporate family.
We also gave back with donations to the Red Cross to support people affected by fires and scholarships to students who were customers or distributors.
We enhanced communication. We’re not perfect with it, but we’ve learned how to mitigate and eliminate silos in bureaucracy in this Pandemic.
One of the things I’m learning is that every possible touchpoint matters. Every little email, every little text message, every little Instagram—every touchpoint matters right now.”
We also realize that we’ve grown a lot because people are looking for contingency plans, or they see this as a way to control success in their lives.
Pat Berry: We weren’t in the beginning, and then we were compelled to. That was a challenge. It’s still a challenge, but it’s taught us new skills and how to stretch and grow.
We really dig our roots deep in growing our careers and getting away from traditionalism. We say we are American, but we are global citizens, and I love my Chinese teams even though we’ve never met.
I’ve gotten emotional over their successes and their challenges when they have to shut down the Hong Kong office for two weeks because the law says if one person gets sick in a high-rise, they shut the whole building down.
We either make excuses, or we deal with the situation and figure out how we’re going to be the solution to the challenge. That’s what we have done.
What obstacles did you face in 2020?
Jeremy Wardle: Money in and money out. We’ve had to be creative. In our first year, the biggest challenge was credit cards, but now we are getting merchants accepting us all over the world. The next challenge is getting product registered in different countries, so we’ve brought in world-class legal. The challenge in having a unicorn product is making sure that we are meeting every legal requirement.
Then there’s compliance. I don’t look at just the claims being made. It’s the material we are producing to support the field, but it’s also complying with border crossing, regulatory in the market—legal compliance. Then you have the finance side working on the money in and money out, which is just as much compliance as legal. We’ve got a really good global team.
How did your company cope with the unpredictable nature of doing business in 2020?
Jeremy Wardle: The predictability of the future is to look at the areas where we succeeded during the pandemic and look at where we haven’t done well. We have done well in our SomaDerm sales, and we’ve done well in keeping our promises. We just held our .comvention™—a virtual event. Talk about a course correction. We started out selling tickets, got 1,500 sold and felt it was going to be a dud. So we made it free and had 50,000 attendees by simply moving from a $40 fee to free. We had a world event in a venue and held live events in Taiwan and put them on the jumbo-tron with 5,000 people in a stadium watching it. We tackled it all.
What we do in Hong Kong that is successful, we keep doing that in Hong Kong. What we do in Taiwan that’s a success, we keep doing in Taiwan.
We’ve adapted by looking at different industries in the United States and just launched a sampling program here. We created an app that allows people to virtually share videos and share SomaDerm single samples where they can try it before they buy it. It creates a reciprocity and a model of duplication that is COVID business-worthy. We’ve got a pandemic proof business model because you can literally go into business completely virtually anywhere.
We need to make sure that our message transcends all borders and that it’s very consistent, but we make sure that when we do a promo, it’s market specific.
What is your plan to sustain the new business in 2021?
Jeremy Wardle: What’s better for all the distributors is best for us and to make sure that we are making decisions that are not ego-based, but are very spirit-based. Is it fair to all concerned? Will this build goodwill? Everybody has to make sure they are checking themselves and their egos at the door.
What sustains your company during times of strife? What advice would you offer to others?
Jeremy Wardle: Has the field bought in to the message? Your numbers are a reflection of what they have bought into. That can be a tough pill to swallow. We need to listen and pay attention to that and ask questions about why. Is the price too high? Is it the formula? We have to check our ego at the door, over communicate and sometimes admit things just don’t work.
If you’re just selling a skincare line or created a compensation plan before you created your product, it isn’t going to work. You’ve got to have purpose. If your mission and vision don’t align with your product strategy, and they don’t align with what the field is doing, take a step back. It doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel. Just take a step back.
Any insights for 2021?
Jeremy Wardle: My hope is that there’s an element of belly-to-belly, face-to-face that begins again, but I do see 2021 as a hybrid, particularly in the U.S. I see it as a challenge and that economic turmoil is coming our way because of bailouts and things being shut down, but I trust in network marketing and direct sales. It’s always had a good edge against recession.
I see 2021 as a tough year, but I think we are all better prepared. Sunny days ahead, but I do see some clouds.